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Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 00:31 GMT
In the spotlight: Palm Beach, Florida
Alligators may be the only constant feature in Florida
By Mark Nessmith in West Palm Beach, Florida

The few Florida natives who live here like to tell a story about a newly transplanted family of New Yorkers.

Like millions from up north, this family drove south to live in the sunshine.

Palm Peach demonstrators
Palm Beach voters do not follow a clear pattern
Life down here, it seemed, would be like summers back home - except the summer would last all year.

They arrived at their home in a newly built community that sits on what used to be swampland.

Dad unpacked while Mom, the kids and their dog explored the back yard.

"This is like back home," Mom thought with a smile, "only warm."

Meanwhile, the kids tossed a stick with their pup.

"Throw it into the pond!" one yelled, not noticing the alligator. "Let her fetch it in the water!"

I won't go into what happened next.

Suffice it to say, the stick was never retrieved.

Neither was the dog.

While the kids sobbed, Mom realised that South Florida might not be just like "back home."

Too diverse to analyse

If you read something by an "expert" explaining the nature and makeup of Palm Beach County, don't believe it.

Palm Beach County
We ourselves don't understand this place.

This is a county of people from somewhere else, a nightmare for pundits and opinion pollsters.

In the past generation, this part of Florida has changed so much that the only constant may be the alligators.

There are far fewer, mind you, but they're still here.

Is Palm Beach County the citrus farmer in the west who voted for George W?

Or are we the inner-city, working mother, a staunch Gore supporter?

What about the financiers in the south end who'll tell you they're for Bush?

And what of the thousands and thousands of Jewish retirees from New York?

They'll tell you "Mister, I've lived in Florida for 10 years now and I'm a Democrat since 1937. Do you know you can't get a decent bagel here? Do you know what they call lox!? Let me tell you, up in New York we....."

That hunted feeling

The point being, if you're looking for consensus here, you're not going to find it.

We are home to the island of Palm Beach, one of the richest communities in the entire world.

Palm Beach, Florida
Recounting the Palm Beach vote
And just back over the bridge on the mainland, you'll find depressingly rundown, dangerous neighbourhoods.

There are too many groups from too many places.

And now, we in Palm Beach County find ourselves thrust into the world spotlight.

We're overrun with politicos and their henchmen attorneys hungry for power.

Well, we may never agree on a candidate.

We may never agree that the ballots were confusing.

We may never agree to re-vote.

But we do agree on one thing.

We're feeling a lot like that New York family's dog.

Only this time the danger is not from an alligator - it's from a horde of lawyers in alligator shoes.

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10 Nov 00 | Americas
US papers watch and worry
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